Durban – Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife field rangers shot and killed two suspected rhino poachers after a gunfight at the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game park in the early hours of Sunday morning.The shootout occurred at 03:30 when rangers patrolling the park’s Nqolothi section heard voices, Ezemvelo spokesperson Musa Mntambo told News24."Our rangers observed a group of five poachers, and turned on their flashlights, simultaneously ordering the poachers to lay down their weapons. One poacher pointed a gun towards the field rangers, but he was out-gunned."The rangers fired first and two poachers were fatally wounded. A... rifle was recovered," Mntambo said.During the shootout, three poachers managed to escape. The park’s K9-unit sniffer dogs were released. It is not immediately clear whether any further arrests were made.It is understood the suspects were from the Melmoth area in KwaZulu-Natal, and investigators are looking at evidence that could link them to last Sunday’s massacre of six rhino at the same reserve."The syndicate is known to the SAPS and Ezemvelo authorities," Mntambo said.Unprecedented surgeOn Saturday, three heavily-armed suspects were arrested outside the park with a high caliber hunting rifle, a silencer, ammunition and an axe.The men, aged 44, 28, and 24, are expected to appear in court on Monday on charges of unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition.This follows a month of rampant poaching and an unprecedented surge in activity by heavily-armed gangs at the park.In 2017, the park increasingly became the target of gangs and is currently regarded as the epicentre of South Africa’s rhino poaching activity.Heightened security and the increased risks associated with getting caught at the Kruger National Park are believed to be behind poachers turning to softer targets further south.To date, 142 rhinos have been poached in KZN since the beginning of the year. It is the highest figure ever recorded over a six-month period.Last year, 162 rhinos were slaughtered over 12 months.